Brain Drain Among Government Scientists Is Lowering Biden’s Climate


WASHINGTON — Juliette Hart left her job last summer as an oceanographer for the United States Geological Survey, where she uses climate models to help coastal communities plan for rising seas. He said he was demoralized after four years of the Trump administration and forced political appointees to delete or downplay any talk of climate change.

Still vacant, Dr. “Leaving government is easy and fast, it’s not so fast for government to regain talent,” Hart said.

President Donald J. Trump’s battle against climate science — his appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists and forced many experts to resign or retire – It continues to reflect on the Biden administration for six months. From the Department of Agriculture to the Pentagon to the National Park Service, hundreds of jobs have been left vacant in climate and environmental sciences across the federal government.

The resigning scientists and climate policy experts did not return. Hiring is fraught, as government science jobs are no longer seen as insulated from politics, according to federal employees. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could take years.

As a result, President Biden’s ambitious plans to tackle climate change are thwarted by a brain drain.

“Attacks on science have a much longer lifespan than the Trump administration alone,” said John Holdren, professor of environmental science and policy at Harvard and two-term top science adviser to President Barack Obama.

New climate rules and clean air regulations mandated by President Biden could be delayed for months or even years, according to discussions with 10 current and former EPA climate policy personnel at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Home Office has lost scientists studying the effects of drought, heat waves and rising seas caused by a warming planet. The Department of Agriculture has lost track of economists studying the effects of climate change on the food supply. There is a shortage of experts in the Energy Department designing efficiency standards to reduce the pollution emitted by appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators.

An agency spokesperson said at the Department of Defense that the analysis of the risks to national security from global warming was not completed until the original deadline, which was extended by 60 days in May.

Mr. Biden identified strongest agenda of any president to reduce planet-warming fossil fuel emissions. Some of the plans to reduce emissions depend on Congress passing the law. However, a good portion could be accomplished by the executive branch if the president had the staff and resources.

While the Biden administration has placed more than 200 political appointees in senior climate and environment-focused positions across government, even supporters say it has been slow to rehire senior scientists and policy experts who turn research and data into policy and regulation.

White House officials said the Biden administration has so far nominated twice as many senior scientists and science policy officials as the Trump administration has and has moved to fill dozens of vacancies on federal boards and committees.

It has also created climate change positions at agencies that didn’t have them before, such as the Department of Health and Human Services or the Treasury Department.

“Management is very clear in sequencing the entire government approach that makes climate change a critical part of our domestic, national security and foreign policy, and we continue to move rapidly to fill science roles in administration. Spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement that science, truth and discovery have a place in government again.

During the Trump years, the number of scientists and technical experts at the United States Geological Survey, an agency under the Department of the Interior and one of the nation’s leading climate science research institutions, fell from 3,434 in 2016 to 3,152 in 2020. about 8 percent

Two agencies within the Department of Agriculture are conducting climate research to help farmers lose 75 percent of their workers after the Trump administration moved its offices from Washington to Kansas City, Mo. in 2019. to work By the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.

And at the EPA, the number of environmental protection professionals fell 24 percent from 2,152 to 1,630, according to a House science committee. statement, described these losses as a “blow to the heart” of the agency. The EPA operates under its Trump-era budget of nearly $9 billion, which pays 14,172 employees. Mr. Biden asked Congress to increase it to $11.2 billion.

At the same time, Mr. Biden directed the EPA to write ambitious new rules. restrain climate warming pollution from vehicle exhaust pipesIt also restores Obama-era rules on toxic mercury pollution and wetlands protection, as well as power plants and oil and gas wells.

Some EPA scientists face a mountain of work untouched by the Trump administration.

A program, Integrated Risk Information Systemor IRIS assesses the hazards of chemicals to human health. During the Obama administration, the program completed studies on the effects of 31 potentially harmful chemicals. During the Trump administration, the program completed only one – in RDX, a poisonous chemical explosive used in military operations.

“There’s a huge backlog,” said Vincent Cogliano, former head of risk information systems, who retired in 2019. “A lot of people have left and that’s going to make things even harder.”

The problem is exacerbated by a sense among young scientists that federal research could be derailed by politics.

“My students have told me I believe what the EPA is trying to do, but I worry that the results of my work will be dictated by political leaders, not by what science actually says,” Stan Meiburg said. A day before Mr. Trump took office, who led graduate studies in sustainability at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC, he left his 38-year career at the EPA.

The U.S. Geological Survey has lost hundreds of scientists during the tenure of James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist appointed by Mr. Mr. Reilly sought to limit the scientific data used to model the future effects of climate change.

“What I saw under the Trump administration, and especially under director Reilly, was a perfect storm – a situation where there is interference with science, inefficient micromanagement that puts us in a dead end, and also a neglect of key tasks,” said Mark Sogge. Former research ecologist who retired after filing a complaint against Mr. Reilly in January.

“Were there any long-term effects?” said Mr Sogge. “I think so too. Many of these projects are still behind and struggling.”

Another author of the complaint against Mr. Reilly, David ApplegateA longtime scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, he was appointed acting director of the agency. Mr. Biden asked Congress to increase its budget from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion, and the agency, Dr. Under Applegate’s management, it recruited about 100 scientists.

Still, gaps abound.

As a research scientist at Geological Survey, Margaret Hiza Redsteer led the Navajo Land Use Planning Project, which studies climate change to help tribal officials plan for droughts. In 2017, the financing of his project was abruptly cancelled; Dr. Redsteer resigned shortly after.

Now, the Biden administration finds itself facing a mega-drought in the Southwest and pressure to address the effects of climate change on tribal nations. Dr. Redsteer said no one was hired to keep their business.

Difficulties in staffing extend to national security and intelligence agencies.

Rod Schoonover resigned from his position as a State Department analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in 2019, which focuses on ecological destruction. After Mr. Trump’s national security adviser tried to thwart climate science Dr. From Schoonover’s written congressional testimony.

He was the only scientist of his rank in any US intelligence agency focused on the worldwide manifestations of climate change.

The position is still vacant, Dr. “There was one of me,” Schoonover said.

“You hear a lot of rhetoric that climate change and some of the other Earth system problems are potentially catastrophic development issues facing humanity,” he said. “But if you walk the corridors of one of our intelligence agencies, it doesn’t reflect that.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that the agency “continues to assess our capacity to prioritize the climate crisis and expand it as needed.”

The Department of Defense has hired eight climate change experts from the Army Corps of Engineers; Mr. Biden’s budget calls for 17 more.

“The implications of climate change for the ministry’s mission are clear and growing,” Richard Kidd, deputy defense secretary for energy, environment and resilience, said in a statement. “We need a workforce that reflects this reality.”

Erin Sikorsky, who until last year led climate and national security analysis at federal intelligence agencies, said it will take time for intelligence agencies to step up and forward their climate change risk assessments to the president.

“You have to hire new people; “You have to train people to integrate this into their daily work,” said Ms. Sikorsky, who is currently deputy director of the Center for Climate and Security, a Washington-based think tank. “This is not something that can happen overnight.”

Max Stier, president and CEO of Civil Service Partnership, who studies the federal workforce, said the Biden administration should focus on modernizing hiring and improving human resources departments.

“I don’t think it’s a simple story like, ‘The last administration was anti-science and the current administration is pro-scientific, so everything is going to be okay’,” Mr. Steir said. “And you can’t pass a law to fix all this.”


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